written by: Carma Haley Shoemaker
• edited by: Elizabeth Wistrom
• updated: 2/24/2011
The connection linking kidney disease and eating disorders is well documented. In order to fully understand the link between kidney disease and eating disorders, you must first understand what the kidneys do and the impact eating disorders can have on that function.
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The correlation between kidney disease and eating disorders is well known. Bulimia, anorexia, pica, and other eating disorders cause actual physical damage to the body, one of which can be kidney disease. Kidney disease can be a life-altering, and sometimes fatal, illness.
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What the Kidneys Do
To fully understand the link between kidney disease and eating disorders, it’s important to understand the function of the kidneys. The kidneys are located near the lower back, one on each side of the spine. Their job is to remove impurities, toxins, and poisons from the bloodstream. In addition, as the blood flows through the kidneys, these organs determine the amount of fluid to be retained or excreted from the body. As a result, the kidneys are largely responsible for regulating electrolyte imbalance, red blood cell production, regulating blood pressure, regulating acidity levels and concentration, maintaining water balance (preventing dehydration), and more.
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Harmful Eating Disorder Behaviors
Those who suffer from any of the various eating disorders take part in behaviors that are damaging to their kidneys and potentially lead to kidney disease. Some of the behaviors that are correlated between kidney disease and eating disorders are: starvation; cycles of overeating (or binging) and purging; decreased fluid intake; ingesting toxic and/or non-food materials (such as metal, paint chips, or chalk); and the use of laxatives and diuretics.
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The Effect Eating Disorders Have on the Kidneys
Both starvation and the cycles of binging and purging can lead to vitamin deficiencies. This vitamin deficiency offsets the essential balance of electrolytes needed by the kidneys to proper remove toxins and poisons from your body. Decreased fluid intake leads to dehydration. When the body is dehydrated, the kidneys begin to withhold fluid in an attempt to combat the condition. This fluid retention can increase blood pressure, off-set the electrolyte balance, and allow toxins to build up in the blood stream. When the body ingests materials that are non-food in nature, or are non-digestible, one of the kidney’s functions is to remove any toxins, poisons, or impurities that result. If these materials are consumed continuously or for a longer period of time, the kidneys may not be able to filter as quickly as needed, resulting in toxins building up in the bloodstream. The use of laxatives and diuretics will cause the body to lose what little retained water it has, causing further dehydration, placing more strain on the kidneys. Kidney disease and eating disorders can build on one another, causing serious physical damage.
The most common example of kidney disease and eating disorders is the presence of ketoacidosis. Ketoacidosis is present when high levels of acids build up in the blood as a result of the body burning fat instead of sugars and carbohydrates in an attempt to get energy. When the body shifts from using sugars and carbohydrates to fats for energy, there is a formation of ketoacids, which overwhelm the kidneys and build up to acidic levels.
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Renal conditions, kidney damage, and kidney disease can be a serious, life-threatening concern for anyone, especially those with eating disorders. Signs and symptoms of kidney disease should not be ignored, and medical attention should be sought immediately.
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The information in this article should not be used as a substitute for advice from a medical professional.